When I sat down to write this, I was frustrated. I didn’t feel well, I hadn’t slept much. The night before I was up with a low blood sugar, and woke up with a high blood sugar. I had worked a 12 hour shift taking care of other people when I myself felt like a patient. I didn’t feel like I was the best candidate to write about life with Type 1 diabetes. I wasn’t the poster child for the disease. I’ve had T1D for 18 years and still have major struggles daily. But then I realized that is what makes me a perfect candidate.
Life with T1D is not perfect, nor will it ever be.
The year was 1998 and I was seven years old. I had just finished first grade. I was selected to be a part of the Gifted and Talented Education (G.A.T.E) program for second grade. I loved playing with Barbie’s. I was convinced the only man I would ever love was my dad.
And then I got sick…
It started out with just not feeling well. I didn’t want to do a lot of the things I had been doing just weeks before. I was hungrier and thirstier and unable to control it with food or drink. I was losing weight. I had lost 7 pounds over the course of a couple weeks.
The biggest flag was that at seven years old, I started wetting the bed again. My parents became concerned and on a sunny day in June we went to the Pediatrician. I was given a cup to pee in and a simple urine test confirmed the doctor’s suspicion: I had Type 1, or as it was commonly called back then, Juvenile Diabetes.
Neither my parents nor I had any idea what that meant. We were told that my pancreas no longer produced insulin, a hormone needed to regulate blood glucose levels, and that I would be insulin dependent for the rest of my life.
They explained that Type 1 diabetes is an immune reaction. The body sees the insulin producing cells in the pancreas as a threat and they are attacked and destroyed.
This means the person must take exogenous insulin for the rest of their life.
We went straight from the pediatrician to a local diabetes education center where we met with doctors and nurses who began to slowly explain the enormity of what my diagnosis meant. I was one of the lucky ones. My diagnosis was caught early enough that I was never hospitalized. I went home that night and began trying to piece together what my life now was.
We were sent home with a diabetes educator. She showed us how to do carb counts, how to do blood glucose checks and how to draw up insulin. I remember being so terrified and angry. We were given a lot of information in a short amount of time. My parents were the ones who were absorbing all of the information. I didn’t understand any of it except that I had to poke my fingers and take insulin shots.
For many years, my parents were the ones who figured out carb counts, poked my fingers, gave me shots, and essentially managed the disease for me. It took a couple of years to fully understand how to read a label and calculate insulin needs from carb counts. I began to recognize how hypo/hyperglycemia made me feel and got better at treating quicker.
Junior high was a struggle. Hormones and diabetes are a terrible combination; more insulin, more testing, and more instability.
By high school the hormones had leveled out, and I was the one managing my disease. I had a rough time in high school. The early morning rush really wreaked havoc on my blood sugars. I missed a lot of school. I ended up having to drop my first period class in order to help with the hormone surge that happened in the morning. I was able to level out my blood sugars and managed to graduate with a 3.5 GPA despite missing school.
When I went to college I decided Diabetes was no longer an issue. I started to ignore it, I ate what I wanted when I wanted, I forgot to take my insulin with me and I was sick a lot from the lack of control and high blood sugars. My mood was unstable, my health was bad.
I was away from home and didn’t feel like I had any control.
That year, a friend told me he was worried about me and he didn’t want to see me die from lack of control. I have a disease, though hard, is 100% manageable. I decided to turn my life around. I started testing as I was supposed to, I ate right, I remembered my insulin every meal. I moved to a town closer to my hometown and decided to start nursing school. I wanted to help people who had diseases and illnesses in the ways the nurses had helped me.
I graduated from LPN school in 2012 and recently went back and am now an R.N.
I use my experiences to help my patients who struggle with not only diabetes, but chronic diseases as well.
I now am a nurse working full time at a rehab facility.
One of the hardest parts of a chronic illness such as diabetes is that you don’t look sick to the outside world. When you tell someone your blood sugar is high and you don’t feel well, people tend not to take what you say seriously because “you don’t look sick”.
I live by myself and manage my disease one day at a time. I turn 25 this month and it is such an accomplishment to have made it this far. 30 years ago, the life expectancy for a child diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes was 10 years after diagnosis. Now, there are so many advancements in technology that make it possible for us to lead happy, healthy lives.
Yes, diabetes is a struggle. Yes, it sucks. But we can do it. I did it. I have so many friends who do it every day.
If you or your loved one have been recently diagnosed, know that you are not alone!
Today’s guest poster is Olivia Vines. I met her 4 years ago while attending Practical Nursing school. She has a vast knowledge of Diabetes and is an excellent teacher of the subject… so much so, she got up and taught part of class when we covered diabetes during school. I am so grateful she has shared her story with us. If you would like to connect with her, you can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.